It’s a bit like belonging to a Nazi party, or the KKK, or the God Hates Fags gang, and then trying to claim not only that of course one’s belonging to that organization doesn’t in the least mean one can’t “speak up” for the rights of Jews or blacks or gays, why on earth would it, but also that even asking the question is absurd and outrageous and indignation-worthy. It’s a bit like that, but to many observers it doesn’t look like that, because we’ve been so relentlessly trained to think of religious beliefs and teachings as in some profound way entirely different from political beliefs. But why would they be? Because it’s taboo to challenge them, that’s why – and that’s a terrible reason.
Ruth Kelly[‘s]…full title is secretary of state for communities and local government…which involves responsibility for equality, including gay rights. It is this last responsibility that lit a firestorm when her appointment was announced, with activists arguing that one of the country’s most high-profile Catholics was unfit to speak up for rights that her church actively opposes. In the same terms, many women’s rights campaigners have argued that her position as minister for women is also questionable…[G]iven that her faith is explicitly anti-abortion and anti-contraception and that its very highest level of priesthood is open only to men, is she really the best-placed person in government to speak up for women’s rights?
I would say no. I would say there is a real tension there, and that it’s no good just pretending that tension is inconceivable. But that’s the road Kelly takes.
As a devout Catholic, though, is there room for manoeuvre on these issues? Does her faith clash with women’s rights? “No! . . . Oh come on!” Kelly exclaims, frustrated. “We risk getting into the situation where you say people of faith can’t hold these jobs – I mean, that’s absurd!”
No it isn’t. That’s just it. It’s unacceptable, it’s ‘offensive’, it’s taboo, but it’s far from absurd. It’s simply no good pretending that “faith” never conflicts and never can conflict with secular ideas about rights and justice and equality.